Hmmm: Did FBI mislead Congress about Steele dossier reliability?

Hmmm: Did FBI mislead Congress about Steele dossier reliability?

How did a set of FBI talking points for a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing in February 2018 contradict what the FBI had known for a year about the Steele dossier? The Senate Judiciary Committee released a declassified and redacted version of the talking points yesterday, which never disclose the problems the FBI had found with Christopher Steele’s subsource at least a year earlier. This expands the potential wrongdoing by the FBI from the FISA court to Congress, and might have caught John Durham’s interest along the way.

The talking points for the briefing are constructed to maintain some level of confidence in the dossier’s information. However, as Inspector General Michael Horowitz discovered, it omits the discrediting information the FBI had uncovered prior to that — especially about Steele’s subsource:

The FBI told Congress that the Primary Sub-source “did not cite any significant concerns with the way his reporting was characterized in the dossier to the extent he could identify it.

  • However, documents previously declassified by the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he “has no idea” where some of the language attributed to him came from or that his contacts “never mentioned” some of the information attributed to them.
  • The Primary Sub-source told the FBI he “did not know the origins” of other information that was supposedly from his contacts and he “did not recall” other information attributed to him or his contacts.
  • Further, the Primary Sub-source said that Steele used “incorrect source characterization” for one of the Primary Sub-source’s contacts.

If that was the FBI’s actual testimony in the briefing, that’s not a sin of omission, but a flat-out lie. As Horowitz discovered, the subsource had raised all of these issues long before. The subsource didn’t just cite serious concerns; he told the FBI by January 2017 that he hadn’t supplied the information Steele attributed to him. That should have called into question the entire credibility of Steele and his dossier — and yet their briefing notes more than a year later claim that the subsource corroborated those claims. That is perjurious, and someone should either be prosecuted for lying to Congress or for suborning that perjury.

Not to mention, by the way, that Steele himself had already questioned that source’s credibility with Crossfire Hurricane agents. Horowitz’s findings about the FBI’s FISA application on Carter Page accuse the bureau of double-dealing in both directions:

Included a source characterization statement asserting that Steele’s prior reporting had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” which overstated the significance of Steele’s past reporting and was not approved by Steele’s FBI handling agent, as required by the Woods Procedures;

Omitted information relevant to the reliability of Person 1, a key Steele sub-source (who, as previously noted, was attributed with providing the information in Report 95 and some of the information in Reports 80 and 102 relied upon in the application), namely that (1) Steele himself told members of the Crossfire Hurricane team that Person 1 was a “boaster” and an “egoist” and “may engage in some embellishment” and (2) the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation on Person 1 a few days before the FISA application was filed …

Omitted the fact that Steele’s Primary Sub-source, who the FBI found credible, had made statements in January 2017 raising significant questions about the reliability of allegations included in the FISA applications, including, for example, that he/she did not recall any discussion with Person 1 concerning Wikileaks and there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and the Trump team, and that he/she did not report to Steele in July 2016 that Page had met with Sechin[.]

Next up, the question of fabrication:

The FBI told Congress that “At minimum, our discussions with [the Primary Sub-source] confirm that the dossier was not fabricated by Steele.

  • However, as Inspector General Horowitz’s December 2019 report on Crossfire Hurricane revealed, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that the corroboration for the dossier was “zero” and that he takes what the sources for the dossier told him with “a grain of salt.
  • Moreover, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that Steele presented some of the information in the dossier as fact reported by sub-sources when the information was really just Steele’s own “analytical conclusions” and “analytical judgments.”
  • The Primary Sub-source explained to the FBI that his information came from “word of mouth and hearsay” and “conversation that [he] had with friends over beers”, and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements made in “jest.

This depends on the source of fabrication, but it was pretty clear well before this briefing that the information had been fabricated by someone. That’s apparent from the subsource’s denial of Steele’s reporting on his input.

The last bullet point might be more of a term of art. What exactly are the defining qualities of “trusted relationships”?

The FBI told Congress that the Primary Sub-source maintains trusted relationships with individuals who are capable of reporting on the material he collected for Steele.

  • However, the FBI interviews with the Primary Sub-source revealed that there were many degrees of separation between the Primary Sub-source’s contacts and the persons quoted in the reporting and that it could have been multiple layers of hearsay upon hearsay.
  • For example, the Primary Sub-source stated to the FBI his contacts did not have direct access to the persons they were reporting on. Instead, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that the information was “from someone else who may have had access.

This clearly seems to be deliberately misleading, if not a flat-out lie. The bolded quote above the bullet points is bureaucratic gobbledygook, designed to cover one’s posterior by parsing out the words contained to their maximum definition. “Capable of reporting” could mean as little as “passing on the latest gossip from Moscow,” which is apparently exactly what Steele did with his dossier.

Lindsey Graham wants answers from FBI director Christopher Wray:

“This document clearly shows that the FBI was continuing to mislead regarding the reliability of the Steele dossier. The FBI did to the Senate Intelligence Committee what the Department of Justice and FBI had previously done to the FISA Court: mischaracterize, mislead and lie. The characterizations regarding the dossier were completely out of touch with reality in terms of what the Russian sub-source actually said to the FBI.

“What does this mean? That Congress as well as the FISA Court was lied to about the reliability of the Russian sub-source. I will be asking FBI Director Wray to provide me all the details possible about how the briefing was arranged and who provided it.

“Inspector General Horowitz’s team found this briefing document. Inspector General Horowitz and his team deserve great credit for uncovering systematic fraud at Department of Justice surrounding the Carter Page FISA warrant. I’m also very appreciative of the Department of Justice’s release of the FBI document used to brief the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

So does Jonathan Turley, who once again wonders where the rest of the media is on this story:

“Willful blindness” is exactly correct. The FBI isn’t the only organization committing sins of omission in Operation Crossfire Hurricane.

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